When U.S. President Donald Trump proposed Bringing Russia back as a member of the G7, some of America’s most important allies, including the leaders of the United Kingdom and Canada, immediately opposed the idea. In Washington, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have dug in over the past two years, demanding that the United States hold Putin accountable and vigorously opposing Trump’s effort to re-open the G7's door to Moscow.
The timing of the president’s latest push to return Russia to the G7 is unsettling. At a moment when the United States is dealing with multiple crises, this is not a move toward greater national security for the United States and our allies and partners globally. Instead it is a move to give an adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a platform to advance his agenda at the expense of our core interests, values, and future.
Trump’s G7 overture came on the same day that Putin announced Russians will soon vote on so-called constitutional amendments to cement his dictatorial powers until 2036. Meanwhile, we can’t ignore another glaring irony: the White House pushing to hold China accountable for violating human rights in Hong Kong, and for mass detention of Muslim ethnic minorities, all while Trump ignores Putin’s savagery and egregious human rights record.
Similar to officials in the United Kingdom and Canada, U.S. and other G7 officials should push back much harder against Trump on Russia’s G7 membership. For one, members should boycott the upcoming G7 Summit if Putin is invited. They should also be blunt with Trump that the next G7 meeting needs to take place after the U.S. presidential election in November.
While G7 leaders need to navigate the delicate and unrewarding diplomacy of working with the U.S. president, they should not allow themselves to be used at any such summit as props for Trump and the White House. We witnessed a new level of Trump’s insidious propaganda machine this month with his dangerous attack on peaceful American protesters and his staged photo opportunity in front of a church -- which is now being used by the White House in advertisements. Moving the G7 meeting until after the U.S. election in November would ensure that the summit is about substance and not politics -- particularly given the current crisis. Staying away also prevents a chaotic situation similar to what we saw at the summit in 2018 when Trump upended the meeting and at the last minute withdrew the United States from a joint G7 statement.
The G7 has critical work to do to address the pressing threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic crisis, and attacks on democracy around the world. It’s simply too important to be used as just another political prop for Putin as he seeks to retain power; or similarly, for Trump in his re-election bid.
Very little in Russia’s global behavior has changed since 2014, when Putin was kicked out of what was then the G8 following his illegal annexation of Crimea. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and elsewhere has grown more brazen and deadly. This record includes war crimes, coup attempts, human rights abuses, and ordering successful and unsuccessful assassinations. Russia’s efforts to interfere in elections and spread disinformation have also metastasized, including spreading dangerous coronavirus disinformation. There are also credible reports that the Kremlin and its proxies are already interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
No American president should be rolling out the red carpet for Putin. Rather than rewarding bad behavior, the White House and the U.S. Congress should instead use every tool at their disposal -- including sanctions -- to hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions. If Trump is unwilling to act, Congress needs to step in again to hold the Kremlin accountable by preventing Putin’s participation at the G7. It can also demand greater White House transparency regarding the unprecedented recent communication between the two presidents.
No G7 leader should make friendly overtures to Putin, even if Trump appears to be doing just that. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel should stand with the UK’s Boris Johnson and Canada’s Justin Trudeau in opposing Putin’s participation at the next G7 summit and Russia’s readmission to the group. Despite the need for greater global cooperation to address the coronavirus and its fallout, Russia is not a constructive partner. The Kremlin has shown zero willingness to stop its aggression globally, and it is wishful thinking to believe that Putin is a constructive partner as he cements his ironclad and unending rule over the Russian people.
Putin is one of the most serious challenges facing the G7 and the future of liberal democracy. The upcoming summit should be about dealing with Russia, China, and other growing global challenges, including the far-reaching health, economic, and social upheaval caused by the coronavirus. On the latter topic Putin has failed miserably to address the pandemic and its impact in Russia. It is foolish to believe that meaningful G7 decisions can be made with Putin at the table and Trump fighting for his political life.
G7 leaders should do the right thing and refuse Russia’s participation or serving as propaganda for President Trump. To stay focused on strengthening democracy and dealing with the long-term impacts of the pandemic they must demand policy action and not play political games. The G7 leaders have a real opportunity to do this. But right now, the next summit as envisioned by President Trump in September is already poisoned. Canada, German, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom need to course correct and say no to Putin and Trump.
Jonathan Katz is a senior fellow and directs the Frontlines of Democracy Initiative with The German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed are the author's own.